As we start to settle into life as a family of four and find our daily rhythm, I’ve created a weekly routine for myself that I’m pretty happy with. I’m getting in regularly scheduled workouts (which, if you read my last post you know is a non negotiable for me), spending quality time with my family, and focusing on this blog and my own studies--all activities that I would classify as some of my favourite things. Maternity leave in Canada: it’s pretty sweet. It allows you time to really lean into the things you love. And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my job, but there’s nothing quite like making your own schedule and being really picky about how you spend your energy. A structured 9-5 doesn’t quite allow for the same flexibility.
Last week, I was hyper aware of how level I felt. And by level, I mean blood sugar wise. I wasn’t craving sweets the same way I have been known to (not saying I didn’t have my daily dark chocolate. Because I did. Let’s not be ridiculous). And I was just feeling super satisfied by all of my well thought-out, real food meals. I was motivated in the kitchen to create nourishing dishes for my family and feeling more creative when it came to our meal prep. Just because I am a health and nutrition enthusiast, doesn’t mean my level of enthusiasm is consistent. Like anyone, it ebbs and flows and from time to time, I fall into a rut. Sometimes life gets away from me and my planning isn’t as top notch as it needs to be, or I have a difficult time coming up with new and interesting meals that also meet my nutritional standards.
I began to wonder why, exactly, I was feeling this way. Why is it that my eating habits are better at certain times than others? When I really sat with this, I came to the conclusion that my eating habits are strongly correlated with my overall life satisfaction. When I feel fulfilled and generally happy, as well as minimally stressed (at least in a negative way), my food intake and eating patterns are optimized. Reflecting on periods of my life when I am not as satisfied by my daily routines, have less satisfaction by my close relationships, etc., I noted that my eating habits are more likely to stray from my ideal standards. There is an obvious emotional connection.
Having a baby is all kinds of wonderful and brutal mixed up into one crazy shitstorm of a few months. What do you think? Did I describe that accurately? It’s such a unique and complex experience that is difficult to describe accurately in a few lines. When you become a mother, there’s a lot of talk about survival. And, let’s be honest: that’s what it can be about many days--just getting by. That said, after having my second baby a couple of months ago, I feel better equipped to handle the ups and downs of newborn life and am pretty committed to creating a life that looks a lot more like thriving than surviving. I want to share my own lessons learned and tips to thrive through these crazy days in hopes that it can help other new moms live even a little above that survival baseline and maybe even create a life with her baby that she always envisioned.
#1 Get your feeds in and manage the daytime sleep
This is probably my most specific tip and may not win me any popularity contests depending on your parenting style or school of thought. But I’m ok with it, because I can honestly say that this rule helped me stay sane with both of my babes and, because of that and the nature of this post, I can’t not share it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love baby sleep. And I don’t just mean babies that sleep (although, ultimately that is what we’re aiming for here). I mean I love learning the ins and outs of baby sleep. There is a boatload of literature and resources on this topic and it can be difficult to figure out how you want to approach sleep and how to get your baby to actually do it. But, a common thread I’ve found amongst most sleep resources and professionals is this: have your baby consume most of their feeds during the day. I’m no expert, but this screams logic to me. If your baby consumes the majority of their food during the day, they are less likely to be asking for it all night long. So, I always suggest starting there. Feed every 2-3 hours. Now, this inevitably affects daytime sleep. Sometimes, in order to ensure your baby gets in all of their feeds, you have to wake them from naps (gasp!), thus also controlling their daytime sleep. And here’s the thing: another concept that makes sense to me is that a baby who sleeps all day long will, at some point, sleep less during the night. I know this is the part of my belief system that doesn’t always sit so well with every parent. But, hey, this is my blog. And because I want to provide something really practical and actionable, here’s a rough daily feeding schedule that I used with both of my children from very early days (once they had reached birth weight after that initial loss), and spoiler alert: both of my kiddos have always been awesome night sleepers. By no means are they perfect, but they’re really good. I’m not saying that this is why… but I’m also not saying it’s not. If you’ve never done something before, and you don’t have anyone to tell you where to start, it can feel like driving without a road map. A schedule gives you a starting point, and thus, a little bit of confidence.
Ayla began eating solid foods at five and half months. We started with vegetables, slowing introducing each food group until she had tried most things by the time she was ten months old. I was thrilled that she seemed to be a great little eater, rarely turning down new foods that were offered (with the exception of broccoli). We primarily chose to follow the methods of baby led weaning, but threw a few purees into the mix as well. All in all, Ayla was exposed to numerous textures and flavours by an early age. She didn’t experience any obvious allergies or intolerances and we moved confidently forward, much to this nutrition nut’s satisfaction.
I have learned over and over again that, when it comes to babies, nothing lasts forever. If you’re going through a challenging phase, most of the time it will pass and you just need to put your head down and shoot for survival. Alternatively (and unfortunately), if you’re experiencing a good phase, learn to enjoy every moment… because there’s a good chance it won’t be sticking around either. Knowing all of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ayla began to turn her nose up at most foods. It all began around 12 months (she is now 13 months). Trusty, staple foods were being left on her tray or thrown to the ground. Lunch time would result in very little food being eaten at all. Ayla began to create a rather short list of acceptable food items and before we knew it, we had entered the dreaded picky eater stage.
I thought for sure I had another year before hitting this phase of our lives that most mothers talk about. If I’m being honest, I was thinking maybe we would even avoid it altogether… you now… because I was using all of the right techniques and nutrition is "my thing". Spoiler alert: even if you think you’re “doing it right”, your child is their own person and will do exactly what they damn well please, whether you like it or not. And that is precisely what the universe is taking the opportunity to teach me, yet again. And one more note on "doing it right": we loved BLW, but Ayla’s current favourite foods are smooth or pureed. So if you went down the puree route, don’t worry too much about your baby having a “texture” issue later on. We are a prime example that it can happen either way.
So, how am I navigating this phase of Ayla’s nutrition journey? The biggest thing I do is try to keep my stress levels in check. It’s easy to be concerned about whether your child is getting all of the nutrients and calories they need when they seem to be surviving on yogurt and bananas alone. But trust that, if you remain calm, and continue to be their nutritional guide, they will get what they need. Even with a short list of acceptable food items, there are still little daily hacks that you can use to boost the nutritional profile of each meal. For example, as you may have guessed, one of the foods that Ayla is currently always down with is yogurt. Yogurt is a great food in and of itself. If you choose the right brand, it is high in fat, protein and probiotics. I flavour it with different foods so she continues to be exposed to various tastes (nut butter, unsweetened applesauce, mashed berries, cinnamon, etc.). I also always add a fat like chia seeds or hemp hearts. This is also where I toss in Ayla’s vitamins, like fish oil and D. So, although yogurt may seem like a simple food, it can be a catalyst for a ton of other nutrients. Another hack I use is adding things like grated zucchini and eggs to oatmeal! If you make your oats on the stove top, you can stir in an egg until cooked without changing the flavour or texture of the dish much at all. So, although Ayla doesn’t currently enjoy eggs on their own, I know she’s getting the benefits of this nutrition powerhouse in other ways.
The other main thing that we continue to do during this picky period is expose Ayla to a variety of foods. This can be frustrating, preparing food that you are fairly confident is going to be left on the plate. But I encourage you not to give up, because exposure is the only way they will ever have the opportunity to enjoy new food items. It may not happen tomorrow or even next month, but you can bet it won’t happen at all if they are never given the chance to try it. I try to choose foods that we are already eating for dinner and preparing anyway, or add simple foods to her plate like sliced cucumber or cheese (hey Ayla, remember when you liked both of those things three months ago? Good times). I am not a child-specific nutrition expert. My training is primarily rooted in adult nutrition. But I have done extensive reading on this topic, as it has definitely become a passion since becoming a mother, and the one word that comes up time and time again is exposure. Just keep at it. Build it and they will come…
Dave and I work very hard not to have any sort of an agenda during meal time (easier said than done). We serve Ayla a meal that includes a few (but not too many) flavours and textures, providing her with some choice. We try not bring many items of food to her mouth for her (even though we’re sure that, if she just got a small taste, she would love it!) and we try to keep the mood light. This may sound kind of dumb since Ayla is only 13 months old, but I am very confident that babies can read your mood and that she understands a great deal more than she can communicate to us. This is also just a practice that I hope we continue well beyond Ayla’s toddler years, in hopes that it will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. We eat as a family as often as possible so that she sees us enjoying a variety of foods and has proper eating behaviours modelled for her daily.
Finally, I try to keep in mind where we are in our lives right now. I just returned to work four weeks ago after a year of maternity leave, and Ayla began daycare. She cut her first teeth and has been hit with about 37 viruses since being exposed to so many new children (feels like 37, anyway). All of these things have the ability to drastically affect her appetite, which makes sense. I remember that she won’t have the same hunger levels every day, just like we don’t, and that’s ok. It will take time to fully adjust to our new routine, and once she’s accepted it as her new normal, we may see another shift in her eating.
So, that’s where we’re at! If you are experiencing anything similar with your little one, know that I feel your pain. It can be a huge source of worry and frustration as a parent. But know that you are doing great. Our children are not robots. They are likely still getting most, if not all, of what they need and their eating habits will probably change again before you know it. Remember the old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Keep pushing forward, as I will be, and let’s all take a deep breath together….
Parents of picky eaters, unite!
I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life.
The first step was to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both, but in the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked to limit or pigeon hole myself into one category of eating. The same was true when it came to feeding Ayla.
I loved the concept of baby led weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to) for several reasons. Because baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much, it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table.
I, by nature, am not an anxious person. That was, of course, until Dave and I decided to start trying for a baby. Suddenly, I was ridden with anxiety and self doubt--a feeling that was very foreign to me. It was one of the first “goals” in my life that I could not achieve simply through focus and determination. There was, of course, the obvious act necessary to make a baby that I could participate in, but beyond that… I couldn’t will my body to conceive the moment I was ready. It became quickly apparent that a Type A personality was not going to play in my favour when it came to making and raising babies. The root of this? Control. Or lack there of, I should say.
I am writing this from a very vulnerable place and it is not something that I am fully comfortable with. To shine light on a time when I felt out of control and less capable is, in fact, a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. I think as women, but particularly as mothers, it can be hard to show others that we battle with self doubt and mental health. For some reason, we feel there is this expectation to be Super Woman at all times. But, from everything I have learned through this experience, I can say with confidence that every mom feels this way at some point in her journey, if not on the regular. It is my hope that, by sharing my story, I will help other women climbing similar mountains know that they are not alone and that, with time, and maybe a little help, this too shall pass. You may feel weak, but you possess endless amounts of strength and wisdom. Know how I know? Because you are a mom. And no one can love or care for your child like you can. No one can know and understand their needs better than you. You are a mother. And that is synonymous with strength.
When Dave and I found out we were pregnant, we were filled with a myriad of different emotions: joy, wonder, excitement, nervousness, anxiousness… the list goes on. With all of life’s uncertainties, nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming feeling that comes from knowing that, together, you created life. And now that life will continue to be sustained inside of you for the next nine months. To say that this is a miracle is an understatement. Even now, 17 weeks in, there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not amazed by what is happening inside of my body. There are so many couples who have difficulty conceiving. I think about these individuals daily and am sure to never take this miracle for granted. Even through the difficult days (and there have been quite a few), I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to become a mother.
Excitement is an emotion I have felt every day since finding out we were pregnant--excited to meet our little bean, excited for the ways in which our family is about to change, and excited for Dave and I to take on our next big gig: becoming parents. That said, my first trimester was anything but easy. As many mothers-to-be do, I experienced a variety of unpleasant symptoms that early pregnancy brings. Of course, I knew all of the possible symptoms that I may be faced with and how common they were. I knew about the ongoing nausea and un-heard of levels of exhaustion and inability to eat or live in ways you were used to, pre-baby creation. And yet? It still hit me like a ton of bricks.
Originally written for www.leanfit.com
1. It’s not always as simple as calories in vs. calories out.
For people looking to lose weight or gain muscle, it isn’t always as simple as eating in a calorie deficit or calorie surplus. Depending on where you are in your nutritional journey, this may be a good starting point, but it will only take you so far. The type of calories (or macronutrients) consumed will have an impact on how much energy you expend during your daily activities. Various foods have a different metabolic effect on your body, and that’s an important consideration when working towards composition goals. Protein, for example, has a high thermic effect, which means the body literally burns more calories when breaking it down than, say, carbohydrates. For example, when you eat 100 calories of carbs, and 100 calories of protein, your body will actually burn more calories processing the protein. This is quite a complicated topic, with plenty of related science to consider, but if you can remember that a calorie is not just a calorie, this information will take you a long way.
2. What works for your neighbour will not necessarily work for you.
Nutrition is a complex topic, and our bodies are even more complex. People are often quick to jump on the diet bandwagon as soon as they witness someone having success with a particular eating plan. When they don’t experience the same success, they are left feeling confused and discouraged. Instead of playing the never-ending game of musical diets, jumping from one nutrition fad to the next, be consistent. Make simple and realistic changes to your daily eating habits. Choose sustainable practices that you can maintain and that work with your lifestyle. This is the first step on the road to healthy eating.
3. A little tough love: you might be eating too much.
This is a bit of a sensitive topic, because I meet many women, in particular, who are actually not eating enough. They’ve been on a calorie-restricted diet for years, and as a result, are experiencing some level of metabolic damage. Or, people limit their calories for days at a time, resulting in a huge binge at the end of the week, and consuming far too many calories for their body type. However, more often than not, people are fooling themselves. They believe that as long as they make healthy choices and are consuming nourishing foods, they should be good to go. The fat will take care of itself. And, although I wish it were as simple as this, calories do play a role. Now, this may seem contradictory to my first point of calories in vs. calories out, but we can’t deny that calories are important. If you are eating too much on a consistent basis, you will gain fat. It’s science. So that extra handful of nuts in the afternoon, eating mindlessly straight from the cereal box (guilty), or taking too many samples from the lady in Costco can really add up. All of the sudden, you’ve eaten 400 calories over your daily goal and you didn’t even notice! 400 calories x 7 days = 2,800 extra calories a week! Another example is falling into what I call “the smoothie trap.” Don’t get me wrong—smoothies and shakes are a convenient, nutrient dense meal to add into your nutrition routine. I have at least one every day. But, too often, people begin loading in the fruits and fats, without being cognizant of serving size. And, sure, every ingredient is real, nutritious food. But, suddenly, they’ve made a 900 calorie smoothie without even knowing it. It’s important to gain an understanding of what you are consuming in a day. Try tracking your food for a week, using an app like My Fitness Pal (see my previous post for more info). This will provide you with an overview of what you are consuming on a daily basis and areas of nutrition where you may be falling short (or going over!).
So, to sum here, here are the top 3 things I wish everyone knew about nutrition:
1. It isn’t always as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Our bodies process different foods in different ways. Pay attention to the types of foods you are consuming and find a balance between macronutrients.
2. Just because a particular eating plan works for your neighbour, does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Find sustainable and healthy practices that fit your lifestyle and be consistent.
3. You may be eating too much. Try tracking your food and begin to gain an understanding of what you are actually consuming in a day and changes that may need to be made. Knowledge is power.
Originally written for www.leanfit.com
Client question: What is the best way to track my nutrition?
Tracking nutrition is a great tool for those looking to gain a better understanding of what their daily food intake is. It helps build awareness of nutrition and often shines light on areas of our diet where we may be falling short. Although it isn’t for everyone, and certainly not a strategy that needs to be used daily, all year long, it is a tool that people can utilize to get their nutrition on track and learn how their eating style may be affecting their body composition and goals.
In today’s era of technology, tracking is easier than ever. Numerous aps and online programs have been developed that allow people to simply track their daily food intake. By far, the most popular of these aps is My Fitness Pal. MFP offers a variety of features, including goal setting, macro, calorie and exercise tracking, progress reports, and sharing your journey with friends.
MFP is an awesome tool, particularly for those who are working towards a specific goal. Remember: the more specific your health and/or fitness goal, the more dedicated you must be to your diet. MFP allows you to track each meal and lets you know when you have hit your calorie and macronutrient goals.
As much as I love this tool, there are certainly downfalls to be aware of. First, anyone can add foods to the MFP database, and it’s not always clear whether the nutritional information on these items is correct. The best way to combat this problem is to use the barcode scanning feature (available through the app, but not the online interface) if the food is packaged, or look for similar foods with the green checkmark beside them. This means the content has been verified. Another tip to remember when tracking your food is that “eyeballing it” isn’t always the most reliable method. Serving sizes may be misjudged, and that can be enough to throw you into a calorie surplus when you’re trying to eat in a deficit (or vise versa). Unless you are loosely tracking to ensure you remain relatively on point with your diet, I do recommend weighing and measuring your food when possible. Again, this is for those individuals who are striving to reach a specific goal within a given time frame. Otherwise, a more relaxed approach to tracking is acceptable and recommended.
Another factor to be aware of is that, by no means, is tracking a perfect science. Not only can there be error in the data, but everyone processes calories and nutrients differently. So it’s very difficult to know how your body will absorb and utilize the amount of calories documented for a specific food.
If you are working with a professional, nutrition tracking may be as simple as keeping a food journal. Your coach or nutritionist can then view your log and provide suggestions moving forward.
In conclusion, I think food tracking is an excellent tool to have in your nutritional toolbox. It can help build food awareness and support you in reaching your goals. That being said, it can be time consuming and inaccurate. So take it with a grain of salt and only use it if it makes sense to do so. Tracking is not a strategy that needs to be employed 24/7, so take advantage of it when it can be most useful to you. If you find yourself obsessing over the numbers, it may be time to opt for a less all-consuming nutrition approach.
I love the holidays. Not only do I indulge in over two weeks of winter vacation, but my days are filled with catching up with friends, celebrating the spirit of the season at different events in the city, and consuming copious amounts of delicious food.
Unfortunately, all of this indulging can often lead to a feeling of full-until-it-hurts, and the infamous food (or other) hangover the next morning. So how can you indulge without losing sight of your goals or forcing yourself to take up an air sandwich diet, post-Christmas? Well, with these challenges in mind, I decided to share my tips for surviving the holidays without sacrificing your waistline:
1. Backload your day
This is my favourite trick of the season. If I know I have a holiday event in the evening or afternoon, I will plan my calories accordingly. This might mean a light breakfast that is higher in protein and fats (saving most of the much needed carbohydrates for later), or I may even start my day with a mini fast. Fasting during the first half of the day not only allows you to eat more in the evening, but it also puts your blood sugar in a good position for eating more insulin-inducing foods (think shortbread, assorted chocolates, and sausage rolls. Oh my). These practices can also support your energy levels. By keeping sugar low during the first part of the day, you encourage healthy cortisol levels (providing energy), and limit your insulin response. Later in the day, when you are indulging in some yummy holiday treats, cortisol levels decrease as insulin levels are heightened. This is also helpful for our hormone levels, as the pattern supports a natural sleep cycle. Have you ever noticed how you become a bit sluggish after a large meal? That’s the power of a high insulin response. So keeping insulin levels low in the morning, can help aid in supporting a natural sleep cycle. Ultimately saving your calories for the afternoon/evening will allow you to really enjoy the holiday treats without feeling like you have to limit yourself to compensate for meals you have already consumed.
For the last few of years, I have immersed myself in the health and fitness world. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool and it has allowed me to be constantly surrounded by inspiring, strong, fearless women who motivate me to be better every day. I feel so fortunate to not only be able to learn and grow from these individuals, but to share my own journey with them and connect with others when I am in need of support or guidance. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and of course other blogs and podcasts have made this so easy, and have literally connected me with incredible people all over the world. There’s nothing more comforting than surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals.
Nutrition and fitness are my passion. Learning about and practicing both ignites something in me. It is when I feel the most like myself (does that make sense?). And there is nothing I love more than sharing this passion with others.
This interest has sparked conversations with many women in my life, some of who have become clients, and some who are just looking to chat or grab my opinion on a particular topic. This is often when the reality of mainstream media sinks in. I am dumbfounded when I learn that women are still doing an hour on the treadmill a day while consuming 1000 calories--and not getting the results they’re looking for.